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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Future Looks Bright for Murray, Mettenberger

Mark Richt isn't interested in looking ahead to next year, and probably for good reason. But his job dictates a steady focus on the task at hand. Ours doesn't. So the question on most people's minds, even as Georgia wraps up the 2009 season, is who might be playing quarterback in 2010.

Back in January, when Matthew Stafford announced he was leaving for the NFL, the job of starter was immediately passed along to Joe Cox. When Cox departs at year's end, things won't be so cut and dry.

"It'll be wide open," Richt said.

That means Logan Gray, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger will all get their shot in the spring, and the battle may not be over until fall camp breaks and the Dawgs begin preparations for next season's opener.

While we've gotten to see a bit of Gray this year, the majority of the curiosity focuses on the two freshmen. In fact, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has even ratcheted up the curiosity factor but making Murray and Mettenberger off limits to the media for the remainder of the season.

Perhaps that move is simply to ensure the duo is concentrating on getting ready for the challenge that awaits, but either way, it's pretty clear that both are making strides, even while riding the bench (and avoiding interviews).

Mettenberger had farther to go, but his upside is tremendous. His arm strength is off the charts, but his footwork and his physique were question marks early on. But as the fall has progressed, Bobo said he's seen marked improvement.

"Zach has matured a lot," Bobo said. "He’s changed his body. He came in, he was 250 pounds. (Now) he’s 231 or 232 and has really improved his footwork and throwing the ball."

As much the physical side of the game has improved, Mettenberger has made strides in his mental approach, too. While Murray took his team to a state title his senior year at Plant High School in Tampa and was roundly considered one of the top quarterback recruits in the country, Mettenberger's skills remained raw and his background less polished. The result was some issues with confidence.

"It’s just him getting more confidence of the system and playing in a system like this where he played for four different coordinators in high school," Bobo said. "Aaron had played in kind of a different system and threw the ball a little more. Zach’s still learning that part, but has a tremendous amount of potential.”

That potential offers plenty of intriguing possibilities, but at the moment, Murray is the clear leader among the freshmen in the race to replace Cox.

A shoulder injury has forced Cox to back off his throwing during the week this season, and as a result, Georgia's backups get plenty of work, particularly on Wednesdays when Cox doesn't throw at all. Gray and Murray have gotten the majority of that work, and Murray has been particularly impressive, despite an elbow injury that caused him to miss several weeks of practice time.

"Aaron Murray comes in every day like he’s the starter, looking at the game plan and takes notes and does a phenomenal job mentally of preparing like he’s going to play every week," Bobo said. "And he’s really been throwing the ball nice the last couple weeks. Really no effects of the injury and doing an outstanding job."

The extra work with Georgia's first- and second-team offenses have been particularly important for both Murray and Mettenberger in their development. Bobo said it's rare for redshirted quarterbacks to get that type of experience, which puts Murray and Mettenberger ahead of the curve for next season.

More than anything though, the work with the No. 1 unit gives the two freshmen a taste of what it's like to be the starting quarterback, which goes much deeper than simply knowing the playbook and putting the ball where it needs to be.

"It’s been big to get reps with what we’re doing and not necessarily just reading a card, but also of learning how to lead, having to step into the huddle and having to tell the play to guys that are on the travel squad and playing on Saturdays," Bobo said. "That’s a valuable experience that you’re not going to get if you’re redshirted and you’re just down on the scout team.”

Fans won't get to see the results until the spring, but Murray and Mettenberger's teammates are already talking about big things in their futures.

“I’ve actually worked with them a lot," receiver Mike Moore said. "When we run routes with the QBs, and when Joe’s not throwing, they’re the main two throwing to us. They’ve been looking better and better every week, every day. Those two guys work hard. They’re very blessed. Mettenberger has a cannon for an arm, and Aaron Murray, you can’t write him off with his arm strength either. He throws a good ball, too. I think we’ll be pretty good in the future with quarterbacks.”

(NOTE: Don't forget we're chatting live at at noon. Get your Dawgs questions in now.)


Anonymous said...

If Murray is simply as good as Zack Collaros we should be a national title contender.

PatinDC said...

Wow. Sounds like good things are coming. I guess it's feat or famine at QB. Either we don't have a suitable starter and just use a placeholder or we have too much talent and have to figure out how to manage it. I hope they show the spring game on ESPN again. Last year was the first time I had seen one and it was interesting. I would like to see how the QB's look again.

Anonymous said...

if murray and mett are getting most of the first-team snaps when joe's not practicing, what the frak is logan doing?

practicing his fair catch signal?